The end of the tax year is always a quiet time on the stock market, and with just eight companies releasing results, next week is no exception.
However, those that are reporting will cover some hot topics, such as the sell-off in the utilities sector and the continued changes in plastic packaging.
Among the companies we’ll be covering:
- South West Water owner Pennon's trading update could offer a new angle on the under-pressure utilities sector.
- A.G. Barr has been gearing up for the sugar tax that’s due to be introduced in April. All eyes will be on how its new low-sugar recipes have been faring.
- RPC's pre-close trading update will be brief, but any commentary on organic sales growth will be closely watched.
FTSE 350 stocks reporting next week
|A.G. Barr*||Full Year Results|
|Ferguson||Half Year Results|
|United Utilities*||Trading Statement|
|AA||Full Year Results|
|RPC Group*||Pre-close Trading Statement|
|CMC Markets||Full Year Pre-Close Trading Updates|
|No FTSE 350 Reporters|
*Hargreaves Lansdown provides research updates on these stocks
Utilities have come under pressure in recent months as several forces conspire against shares in the sector.
Increased political pressure, potential interest rate rises and the announcement of tougher regulations have all weighed on sentiment. While all three are important to investors, we only expect commentary on the latter. After all, commenting on political and monetary policy doesn’t really feature on CEO Christopher Laughlin’s job spec.
While acknowledging the new regulations will likely be more challenging, the group has also said it’s confident of delivering good results for customers. This is reassuring, although investors would be even more comfortable if Pennon gave a better indication of what shareholder returns might look like in the new regulatory world. At present, the group targets paying dividend increases four percentage points above the rate of RPI inflation.
The soft drinks industry is facing a shake-up.
April will see the introduction of a tax on soft drinks with higher sugar contents. Drinks containing 5-8g of sugar per 100ml will face an 18p per litre charge, with a charge of 24p per litre on those with more than 8g.
A.G. Barr has responded to the tax by reformulating its products to lower sugar recipes. 99% of the portfolio will be exempt from the new levy. Given that Barr’s portfolio contains the famously sugary Irn-Bru, that’s a major achievement.
However, there have been concerns that the reformulated drinks could alienate the group’s legions of fans.
The new Irn-Bru formula was introduced in January, and the February trading update suggested it had been well received. However, it’s vital that early performance continues. Commentary around ongoing Irn-Bru sales will be critical in next week’s full year results.
RPC manufactures plastic packaging, primarily for consumer goods companies. David Attenborough’s campaign against plastic pollution of our oceans has not done the group any favours. And that’s putting it mildly.
Supermarkets have been pledging to cut plastic packaging left, right and centre, while a host of major consumer goods groups have pledged to move towards 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025.
It’s not clear how much detail will be included in the pre-close trading statement. However, with demand for plastic packaging likely to fall, RPC’s organic growth numbers will be closely watched. Organic revenue growth of over 3% in the final quarter of the year would be respectable, and if it can repeat the 4% posted in the third quarter, that would be a good result.
RPC prides itself on its innovation, and given the increased complexity of fully recyclable products that could work in its favour. The group has also been investigating bio-polymers and compostable materials. We wouldn’t be surprised if recent innovative success attracts comment.
The author holds shares in RPC.
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